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Voters will decide Feb. 3 on King County Director of Elections

Six candidates for King County elections director squared off in a debate Jan. 15, vying for the right to head a department historically plagued by mistakes.

Voters for the first time will decide who gets the job on Feb. 3.

The elections director was previously an appointed role until voters decided to make it a non-partisan elected office last November.

Voter turnout for the Feb. 3 special election is expected to be over 30 percent due to the county’s first all mail-in election, although fewer than 10 spectators were on hand for the candidate debate at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Branch.

The next elections director will make $146,000 per year, oversee a budget of over $19 million, and administer up to six elections a year.

Current King County Elections Director Sherril Huff joined the race after telling the media in December 2007 that she wouldn’t run if voters made her job an elected position.

One of the challengers, Orting School District English teacher Christopher Clifford, is challenging Huff’s eligibility in King County Superior Court and with the county canvassing board. He claims Huff doesn’t really live in the Seattle home that she recently began leasing.

All candidates for King County elections director must reside in the county.

Huff lived in Bremerton when she first landed her position, but she changed her voter registration two days before filing for the race.

Candidate Julie Kempf was the King County elections superintendent until 2002, but Executive Ron Sims fired her after a screw-up with absentee ballots.

Internal reports indicated that Kempf lied about the mistake, although she claims to have passed along information that she believed to be true at the time.

“I didn’t perform enough due diligence on information that had been given to me before I gave it to the press,” Kempf said. “That’s a mistake I’m never going to make again in a public leadership position.”

Candidate David Irons is a former King County Council member. Irons ran an unsuccessful bid to unseat King County Executive Ron Sims in 2005. He’s a telecommunications entrepreneur who says his management experience will help him administer fair elections.

“This is a new office,” Irons said. “It’s all about experience, knowledge and proven leadership.”

Candidate Pam Roach is a Republican state senator from the 31st Legislative District who made headlines years ago with a rant that she gave on the Senate floor following the mysterious removal of flowers from her office desk.

Roach serves on the Senate Operations and Elections Committee. She has shown strong support for the initiative process, and was also a prime sponsor of the Help America Vote Act.

Her detractors have said she has a history of erratic and inappropriate behavior.

“I believe I’ve been very effective in the Senate, but I do think a change of venue for me would be good,” Roach said. “I have a very specific knowledge about elections that not many people do.”

Candidate Bill Anderson has a seemingly unblemished record, albeit untested.

He says his experience as a bank industry executive and software engineer has given him the experience to manage ballot-counting more effectively than anyone else.

“I have experience handling very large number of checks, transactions, and people and callers,” Anderson said. “We need to have someone in the elections director position who has that kind of experience.”

Municipal League ratings

The Municipal League of King County has rated Sherril Huff and David Irons as "outstanding" candidates for the position of King County Elections Director. In addition, the League rated Bill Anderson "very good," and Chris Clifford, Julie Kempf and Pam Roach as "adequate."

Voters will select the new elections director by special election Feb. 3.

The nonpartisan ratings are based on four criteria: Knowledge, involvement, effectiveness and character. The ratings don't consider political affiliations or stands on specific issues. Candidates also aren't rated against each other.

The ratings are the result of the work of citizens from around King County who volunteered for a special candidate evaluation committee over the last month. To view candidate questionnaires and more detailed information about the rating process, see www.munileague.org.

The Municipal League is a nonpartisan volunteer organization that has worked to ensure good government that is open, effective and accountable since 1910.

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